Women in Industry: The Progress and the Challenges

women in industry
11 March 2022

Here at Fairwayrock, we support women in industry and believe that gender diversity nurtures greater ideas and drives success within organisations. This is why it is important for industry to take steps forward to create an inclusive environment which attracts and retains women. This month, in light of International Women’s Day, we want to raise awareness of inspiring women in industry, how things have progressed, and the challenges that are still present. Shining a light on these issues is the first step to actioning meaningful change.

The importance of gender diversity

Having a gender diverse workforce opens up industry to differing perspectives and ideas which originate from different life experiences. It also enables better collaboration, with research demonstrating that women tend to be stronger at reading non-verbal cues and fostering teamwork than their male counterparts. Gender diversity is also a significant factor when it comes to recruitment and retention, with organisations that prioritise inclusivity demonstrating higher staff retention. Female millennials look for employers with a strong record on diversity, according to research by PwC, with 85% saying it’s important to them. Studies have also demonstrated that gender diversity can have a positive impact on an organisations financial performance. According to McKinsey, the most gender-diverse companies are 21% more like to experience above-average profitability. And a report by MSCI shows that having women on the board of a company boosts productivity. Overall, the benefits of gender diversity in industry are far-reaching and provide organisations with a more dynamic, collaborative and productive workforce.

How the figures stack up

As the years have passed, it is evident that progress has been made when it comes to greater gender diversity in industry, and society as a whole. However, there is still a long way to go to create a truly level playing field. In this article we will focus on three industries in particular: oil and gas, construction and maritime.


Women represent just 1.2% of the global seafarer workforce, according to the latest BIMCO/ICS Seafarer Workforce Report. This figure actually represents an increase of 45.8% in comparison to the 2015 report, with an estimated 24,059 women working as seafarers. Despite things moving in the right direction, clearly a lot more needs to be done to address the gender imbalance within the historically male-dominated maritime industry.

women in industry


It is a similar picture for the construction industry. Despite progress, women still only comprise of 11% of the construction workforce, dropping to just 1% of operatives on site. The majority of women who work in the sector are office-based, working in design, management or administrative roles. With the industry currently experiencing a skills shortage, opening the industry up to a wider pool of talent is needed now more than ever.

women in industry

Oil & Gas

In terms of the oil and gas industry, women make up 22% of the workforce worldwide, though this percentage decreases with seniority. Women are especially scarce in technical and field roles, which frequently lead to career advancement. Among entry-level positions, women fill 50% of office and business support roles, compared to just 15% of technical and field roles (Catalyst). The global power and utilities industry has increased the representation of women on boards over the past five years—from 2% in 2014 to 17% in 2019, demonstrating that notable progress has been made. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve an equal gender balance within the sector.

The issue of advancement

Career advancement is a key issue that women face in industry. Once women fill entry level positions, female-representation tends to decrease as job seniority increases. In the oil and gas industry, 24% of board seats across the UK energy sector are held by women, dropping to 14% for executive director roles, and just 1% for CEO positions. This demonstrates that there are still barriers present for women trying to climb the career ladder, and this is something that is being increasingly recognised. POWERful Women (PfW) is a professional initiative which aims to advance gender diversity within the energy sector. They provide practical support to companies and publish annual board statistics. Providing transparent figures and data on female representation is an important mechanism to drive forward greater diversity and inclusion, highlighting areas which need to be addressed. Fairwayrock has been given permission by OEUK to share content from a recent interview Katy Heidenreich did with Hays Boone.

Katy Heidenreich, Supply Chain & Operations Director at OEUK highlights the mentorship scheme run by the initiative:

“POWERful Women also run a successful mentoring programme for those in the industry, designed to support women looking to move to exec and board positions within the next five years. Their scheme feeds into their target that 40% of middle management, and 30% of executive board positions, to be female by 2030.”

Similarly, the construction sector has more women in senior roles than ever before, having increased from 6% in 2005 to 16%. This shows that the industry is moving in the right direction, but at a much slower pace in comparison to other industries. The career advancement barrier is the most striking however in the maritime sector. 95% of all admin roles in the maritime industry are occupied by women, compared to just 5% of maritime executive leadership team roles (Spinnaker). Women are also underrepresented in the job roles which demand a higher salary including: technical & marine, chartering & freight trading and shipbroking.

Breaking the stigma

Despite progress over the years, there is still a level of stigma surrounding certain industry fields. This is particularly true for roles which are seen to be labour-intensive including construction site jobs and offshore positions within the oil and maritime sectors. These roles are still heavily male-dominated, with preconceptions holding some women back from entering these fields. More must be done to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for women at an organisational level. Randstad conducted a survey of 4,200 construction workers, which found that 72% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. This demonstrates that more must be done to change attitudes and workplace culture, perhaps through training programmes.

Preconceptions can also be tackled from an educational level, as these can be deep-rooted from a young age. Career prospects within industry should be equally communicated to both boys and girls, throughout school and higher education. Raising awareness of these opportunities can make women and girls realise the wide range of career paths available to them.

women in indsutry

Organisations working for change

There are various organisations and initiatives that do great work to break down barriers for women and girls. We have highlighted a few of these below:

Women Offshore is a great organisation which works to empower female seafarers across the world. They provide an online community and professional development resources, whilst raising awareness amongst industry leaders about the issues impacting women in maritime. The IMO also runs a Women in Maritime Programme, supporting access to maritime training and employment opportunities for women.

Oil and gas organisations have also been taking action to address gender imbalance, with large companies such as BP and Shell signing the AXIS Pledge. The AXIS Pledge asks companies working in Aberdeen’s energy sector to understand the underlying reasons behind their gender gap, and take positive actions to close it. The pledge also includes working towards equal pay, equal leadership, and equal opportunities for women and men in oil and gas. OEUK is another oil and gas organisation working toward change in industry. Katy Heidenreich, Supply Chain & Operations Director at OEUK highlights the progress that’s been made:

“Whilst change is hard, it’s also inevitable. A recent report showed that there are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 350 – something unimaginable even 15 years ago. Here at OGUK, we’re incredibly proud that our current leadership team promotes such gender balance, with a 50:50 split of men and women in those roles.”

Women into Construction (WiC) is another great organisation working to address gender diversity in the construction industry. WiC is an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides bespoke support to women wishing to work in the construction industry. They also help contractors to recruit more women into roles, addressing the skills shortage and creating a more diverse workforce.

These organisations and initiatives all play an important role in working towards greater opportunities for women in industry.

Female role models

Female role models can also play an important role in encouraging other women to join certain industries. Seeing successful role models can give women the confidence that they need to apply for a position that they may have otherwise deemed as unsuitable for them.


It is clear that progress has been made when it comes to engaging more women in industry, with a greater number of women now involved in traditionally male-dominated roles and increased representation of women at board-level. However, figures show that there are still a number of challenges that must be tackled. Certain job fields – particularly offshore roles and construction site roles continue to be heavily male-dominated, with a large perception shift needed for women to feel encouraged to join. Stigma and workplace culture needs to be addressed to make working environments feel comfortable and inclusive for women. There are a number of organisations which are pushing for change, with just a few highlighted here. At Fairwayrock, we want to use our platforms to share women’s inspirational stories as well as any challenges that they face.

If you are a woman working within industry, we would love to hear from you. Get in contact with us by email at [email protected] or on Instagram @fairwayrock.industry

Tags: , , , , ,